Scheming to escape

In 1504, two felons took sanctuary at St Mary Overey in Southwark. Two constables, John Rogerson and John Laurence (both with day jobs, as tailor and cooper), duly called the coroner so the felons could abjure.

The next day, the constables brought the coroner, but the two felons – John Sampyre, yeoman of Shrewsbury, and Richard Couper, weaver of Ticehurst, Sussex – said that they’d like to delay abjuration for a while and take their full 40 days in the church before going into exile. The coroner and constables were doubtful about this, worrying that the supposed sanctuary seekers were actually just “scheming to escape.” The law, however, allowed seekers 40 days before they had to leave the parish church, so Sampyre and Couper were permitted to stay.

The constables were set the task of ensuring the felons didn’t escape, which required keeping guard night and day over a large church with multiple doors. It didn’t take Sampyre and Couper long to scamper out; as coroner and constables had thought, this was their plan all along.

The felons Sampyre and Couper were not found again as far as I can tell. The two constables were indicted for allowing the escape with their “defective vigilance,” but they were able to escape the charge.

TNA, KB 9/438, m. 86; KB 27/985, rex m. 6d. Image source.

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